Updates from the Georgian Association officers 

Veronika Metonidze, the President of the Georgian Association in the USA, is stepping down after a productive four-year term. The Board of Directors extends their thanks to Veronika for her dedicated service and significant contributions during a period marked by several global and regional challenges. These include the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Georgia’s efforts towards European Union candidacy. For those interested in learning more about Veronika’s achievements and initiatives, a video retrospective is available.  As a practicing US attorney and international consultant, Veronika brought her wide-ranging experience into her presidency. She focused on boosting U.S.-Georgian relations, especially in response to aggressive Russian expansionism, by reaching out to U.S. government institutions and the American public. Veronika has played a significant role in promoting Georgian culture, helping to increase awareness and appreciation for Georgia’s history both within the Georgian community and beyond.

Moving forward, Veronika will take on the role of Treasurer within the Association, continuing to offer her expertise and leadership on the board. She will also remain at the forefront of the Association’s critical advocacy efforts within the Central and East European Coalition and the American Coalition for Ukraine, as well as contribute to various upcoming projects.

Salome Tsereteli-Stephens has been elected as the new president effective March 8, 2024. Salome has been a member of the board and has taken on several projects during her membership. Salome has been working in the international development field for over 20 years and is committed to seeing Georgia advance its democratic, Western aspirations. She holds a law degree from Tbilisi State University and is currently director of Learning, Evidence, and Impact at the American Bar Association Center for Global Programs. She also serves as adjunct professor at the American University where she teaches a graduate-level course on project planning, monitoring, and evaluation at the School of International Service. She is fluent in Georgian, English and Russian and conversant in Turkish, German, and Spanish. Salome moved to the United States from Georgia in 2012 and resides in Maryland with her husband and three children. As a mother of Georgian-Americans, she is also passionate about strengthening cultural and linguistic ties between the two countries. 

The Board of Directors wishes Salome the best and looks forward to working with her in continuing the important work of the Association. 

John (Tsotne) Dadiani is stepping down from his role as treasurer after five years and will remain on the board of directors to continue his valuable contributions to the Association. The Board of Directors of the Association recognizes and thanks Tsotne for the tireless service to the common goals and his leadership for over nine years as the board member. 

Eka Imerlishvili was voted in as the new secretary of the Association effective March 8. Eka has been a member of the board and has contributed valuable efforts to the work of the Association. We welcome her in this new role and wish her success. Eka is a strong advocate of gender equality and social inclusion and has worked, spoken and written on these issues over the past 15 years. As a recipient of US State Department’s Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (UGRAD) scholarship, she is a devout believer and supporter of inter-cultural exchange initiatives for their life-changing impact on individuals, communities and countries alike. Eka hopes that her new role as the secretary at the Georgian Association in the USA will contribute to strengthening ties between Georgia and the US through similar programs and initiatives. 

Georgia’s contribution to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan

Georgians should be proud of the many contributions and tremendous sacrifices made in Afghanistan as part of the international war on terror.  Georgian troops arrived in Afghanistan in 2004. Georgia became the largest non-NATO and the largest per capita troop contributor to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan by late 2012.  At its peak deployment, Georgia provided two full infantry battalions serving with United States forces in Helmand province, primarily a United States Marine Corps (USMC) area.  Since the beginning of their mission, more than 11,000 Georgian soldiers have served in Afghanistan.  In June 2016, Georgia still had 861 troops, the largest non-NATO contributor to the Resolute Support Mission follow-on to ISAF, second only to the United States.

While the Georgian combat mission in Helmand ended in July 2014, Georgia pledged troops to the new NATO-led non-combat, training, advisory, and assistance mission called “Resolute Support” launched in January, 2015.  At various times, Georgia has also deployed an infantry company serving with the French contingent in Kabul, medical personnel within the former Lithuanian Provincial Reconstruction Team and some individual staff officers.

Georgia’s commitment to supporting international forces has come at a price.  Since 2010, 31 Georgian servicemen have died, all in the Helmand campaign, and over 400 wounded, including 35 amputees.  Many of the amputees received medical treatment in the United States, mostly at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, MD.  Some soldiers with severe burns and traumatic brain injuries were treated at other specialized military medical centers.  The amputees included single, double, and triple loss of limbs.  At WRNMMC, they received excellent care including state-of-the-art prosthetics and rehabilitation.  Some of the wounded warriors had their families residing with them during their stay in Bethesda, and two of the amputee families gave birth to children who will have dual citizenship.

Alex Tugushi
Gen. John M. Paxton, Jr., assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, left, thanks LTC Alex Tugushi, a battalion commander with the Georgia forces stationed with the Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan and wounded warrior, right, for his attendance and sacrifice during a promotion and appointment ceremony at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 2012.

During their rehabilitation, some lasting several years, the soldiers were often visited by Georgians living in the Washington, D.C. area, as well as Americans who learned of their sacrifices.  At the recommendation of the Georgian Embassy, the Wounded Warrior Mentor Program (WWMP) started an English as a Second Language program to help the wounded soldiers benefit from their time in the lengthy treatment and healing involved in amputations.  The WWMP, with a dedicated group of volunteers and six Georgian wounded with their relatives who act as Non-Medical Assistants (NMA) and two Georgian medical personnel, met weekly at Bethesda to study English as a second language, and also to socialize, watch sports and share food; Georgian food of course.

One of the most severely wounded was LTC Alex Tugushi, a highly decorated battalion commander of the Georgian forces.  LTC Tugushi, served two eight month tours in Iraq, and two in Afghanistan, the second cut short by his wounds from a roadside bomb. While recuperating at WRNMMC he was visited by many USMC officers and President Barack Obama.  LTC Tugushi has since been promoted to full Colonel and lives in Georgia. By 2015, all the soldiers at WRNMMC had returned to Georgia to regain their lives with family and friends.

United States Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta visited the Georgian 31st Battalion in March 2012.   “I wanted to come here and thank you for your sacrifices,” the secretary said.  The secretary read a letter he said Tugushi had given him for the battalion. Dated March 12, the letter read, in part: “It has been an honor to serve with you. You are Georgian heroes. … The Armed Forces of Georgia, serving together with international forces in Afghanistan, are making a large contribution……”  “It is a great honor to serve shoulder to shoulder with the United States in one of the most troubled regions of Afghanistan,” the letter continued.

“Unfortunately, I could not complete my service with you. But I am proud of all of you — those who have fallen and those who continue to serve. You are all heroes who will go down in Georgian history.”

When the secretary finished reading Tugushi’s letter, he said it expressed his own feelings about the accomplishments of Georgian troops over the past eight years as part of the 50-nation coalition.

“You are an example of that international partnership, fighting for stability in Afghanistan,” Panetta said.

Georgia, a small country that more than lived up to its commitment to the international community has yet to be accorded a Membership Action Plan which would pave the way for Georgia to become a member of NATO.